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NWN2 - Hearts of Endia Mod Review

Discussion in 'Mod Reviews' started by chevalier, Jun 28, 2009.

  1. chevalier

    chevalier Knight of Everfull Chalice ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

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    Hears of Endia, v 1.2
    Creator: Mazena
    Type: Alpine adventure
    Creator's description: Follow the story of the heroes of the Heart and play through the many obstacles and kill the foes they face. Explore various unique locations, ranging form dwarven mines to elven forests. Earn the trust of the Houses and find out who's behind the recent attacks. But in the end, will you be able to save the Heart and the hearts of you and your companions?
    Requires: NWN2 Patch 1.22
    Download location: Link
    Review first posted June 15, 2009

    Quick Characterisation

    A marvellously picturesque Alpine adventure with a Heidi.

    Background

    Because life is boring, you decide to leave it behind and set out for Switzerland, I mean, Endia (Screenshot: A Promise). The module starts on the road at night and the first thing you see is a thoroughly welcoming inn, confirming your suspicions that you've just crossed the Swiss border (Screenshot: Can I have a bombardino, please?). Your first worry is how in the world you're going to pay for the night if you don't have gold (I had around 100 gp, but hey...). Actually, there is a way. This is an inn, after all. So you earn your bed by bouncing (Screenshot: Bouncing) and some time after you lay your weary body in it, something wakes you up and, you guess correctly, it's time further to perfect your bouncing skills (Screenshot: Wake up!). Three wizards. Who cares (Screenshot: Headshot). You impale the noobs on your sword and move on to learn that you've just helped the daughter of a local boss. She says she could have wiped the floor with them on her own but in her own words this still counts as saving her. She's a lovely girl, perfectly aware of her weaknesses consisting in being too direct and talking a lot. Not taking her along would be punishable under local laws, so you hit the road with a new companion (Screenshot: On the Road). She can make herself quite noticeable (Screenshot: Noticeable) and she's overall charming (Screenshot: Dude, you rock... kinda!).

    Style and Originality

    Wow, wow, wow. This module has so many things good adventures have and more! At the same time, it manages to implement a bunch of great ideas of the author's own. And come on, just how many Alpine adventures have you played (Screenshot: Alpine)? The areas are accordingly hilly and covered in grass and flowers (Screenshot: Alpine..., Screenshot: Flowers, Screenshot: Wolves, Screenshot: Wow!), so much so that you practically feel it all under your feet. If you look around and above, you could swear the sky gets a bit red or brown because of all the leaves in the treetops you look through (Screenshot: Trees). The titular city is very much a tiny little European principality with a life of its own (Screenshot: City, Screenshot: Inn) and an exotic political system that's served this place well but you won't find anywhere else. One of the four heads of the local community is Heidi's father. There are also elves with a forest camp and a sacred place and dwarves with a mine. This all gives you an old-school feel about this module further reinforced by a feeling of being cared for by the DM through a very good use of cinematic conversations to provide immersion and make the gaming fun even more oblivious. Quest beginnings are a prime example (Screenshot: Underling..., Error: Not enough manpower. Hire an adventurer to continue.) and the wonderful way in which background information is delivered in the module storytelling is another (Screenshot: As you close in on the entrance..., Screenshot: Bustling Marketplace, Screenshot: Something is wrong). It's also fun to see as you gain recognition after completing some quests (Screenshot: Fine job) or as your quest givers are interested in the outcome (Screenshot: Saved him). The author also assures that the heroes are remembered and respected after saving the town (Screenshot: Memory of Heroes). ;) To finish off talking about the great use of cinematics for storytelling, it needs to be mentioned that for a scene that particularly merited it, the author got rid of the black bars, giving you a whole screen of action (Screenshot: No bars).

    The Stuffing and the Crust

    There's little empty room in this adventure. It feels every inch and every minute has been worked on. The locales are lovely and the quests are well set, as I amply showed above. I might say that some city or indoor areas may be just a tiny bit empty, but that's a feeling that probably never entirely leaves anything made in the NWN1 or NWN2 toolset that I've seen so far. As you stray from the beaten path, you discover beautiful locations, you gain side-quests that you otherwise would not and you meet strange people that give you items (well, just one, but still). The author has even provided custom music that fits the module's Alpine atmosphere. It made me laugh like a child throughout the candy-like peaceful sections and it provided an additional flavour to the more adrenaline-loaded moments as well.

    The characters are well-made and you are able to feel their non-intrusive presence pretty well as you travel and dabble with the local politics or fight. They are hardly epic but neither are you and they have a lot of life to them (Screenshot: Feedback, Screenshot: Thanks, Screenshot: No bars - Again). Interestingly, they form a rather traditional party combination of wizard, rogue and fighter, supplementing whatever you play (Screenshot: Magical Four), but their relatively rich personalities are no mere excuse to put the relevant tactical role in (Screenshot: Can you get that spell down?). The team integrates well and further, a "loving feeling" naturally develops between the player character of the appropriate gender and one of the characters (guess who), which expands on the experience.

    In addition to the great setting, storyline and quest handling, I must say I'm pleased with roleplaying tidbits showing from time to time, such as an NPC being aware of the player's class and commenting on it (Screenshot: Young Jedi), a quest pushing you to look further than the stereotyped outlook, a peaceful farmer appreciating a non-violent solution to the quest he gave you, the leaders of the city paying more than enough (Screenshot: Have some gold, boy) but without crossing the line and so on, which generally proves what I said in the previous section. On the other hand, some of the loot might be seen as too powerful for your level by nitpickers and possibly selling it and buying things could bring you more cash than you should have. Speaking of cash, shop prices are very steep. If this is intentional, I haven't been able to identify the reason for it, other than being a local flavour, but someone could have at least mentioned it in the passing to trigger some understanding. What I didn't like on the roleplaying level was the utter (or almost utter) lack of quest experience. You finish a quest, you get your journal entry, your thanks and your gold, so everything is taken care of, but you don't get any XP. I can't agree with it if it was a design decision and if it wasn't, well, then addressing it in a future revision will definitely improve the module.

    Further, there's a design choice I don't quite understand. The fighter NPC comes with a longsword but without a shield and the "shields merchant" in the town doesn't actually sell a single shield. You can buy one only late in the module. It looks good, yeah, but he could at least carry a heavy shield +1 in his inventory or you should be able to purchase one in the town. Combat being so demanding, this shouldn't happen in my opinion.

    Puzzles

    You actually get to solve a criminal investigation. And that's always fun (Screenshot (Spoiler): That's not quite convincing...). Except it takes more IQ than I have to do the final part without peeking into the walkthrough (you have to do a very non-obvious thing in terms of game interface - I wouldn't have come up with it on my own), but otherwise everything's great. There are even hints in conflicting testimony of some witnesses that you could use in figuring out who's lying. At some other point, you get to deal with a series of riddles to earn passage through a sealed place. If you fail, you can still go on but you need to fight more in terms of punishment. Generally, the whole adventure is your own investigation in which you have the support of the local leaders, which feels good, gives you an additional thrill and fits in well.

    Combat

    Unfortunately, the combat, while sometimes very immersive and thrilling (Screenshot: Mine Combat, Screenshot (Possible Spoiler): Finale, Screenshot (Spoiler): Tough Battle), partly because of well-executed introductions (Screenshot: Can you get that spell down? - Again) is a hard ordeal. According to the author's description, the minimum level to play it is 5 and the maximum level is 7. To make a long story short, I was barely able to finish the module when I started at level 5 and I wouldn't have been able to finish it if it hadn't been for a glitch in the AI in the final battle that stopped nasties from attackied after a while. Also, being able to cast two simultaneous instances of Bless Weapon, which only a paladin can do, makes significant difference against the undead you fight. The final battle is way overloaded and there's no guarantee that a typical party will be able to beat it even after being able to beat previous battles in the module. This I see as a considerable disadvantage.

    Not wanting to grade from a narrow perspective, I restarted with a level 7 character and brought in a Greatsword +1 with 2 fire damage purchased in Vordan's Hero Creator from the 15,000 gp sum that was deemed appropriate for my level. Things were easier. In fact, the beginning was very easy, while near the end of the module, it had all practically evened out, so sea goblins were tough little meaniess nonetheless, although manageable (Screenshot: Big Brawl). The final battle was survivable but achieving survival entailed prolonged periods of swapping a regeneration item around the party until everyone was healed, plus, if the almost-final two enemies had attacked in concert, as they were probably supposed to do, I'm not sure if I would have been able to pull it off. As a side note, one bad thing about starting high was not getting the spells of my choice when levelling the wizard (they weren't for sale in the shop, either), such as Circle of Protection from Evil that works great on parties that oppose all sorts of villains.

    Further, from what the game suggests, the iron golem you meet at some point towards the end of the adventure should not be able to be worked around but rather should need to be destroyed for the player to be able to proceed. Even after starting at level 7, I was able to get it perhaps to the beginning of Badly Wounded before dying. This means you can beat it, sure, but only if you resort to saving after landing blows and reloading after collecting them. I don't like that kind of thing, even though it's an established convention probably as old as the genre itself. I think combat should be more realistic. Being forced to use tactics is fine, even if it means reloading a couple of times, while being forced to reload many times simply because the enemy is too strong on the point of stats is not fine and should be avoided.

    Bugs

    There are no visible script errors or anything of the sort except two missing quest rewards and a quest giver not realising you've done the job he's given you. One reward is just a sum of money that you don't actually get despite mention in dialogue, so you can shrug it off with understanding. On the other hand, the other missing one is a powerful magical item you get to pick from two artifacts as a peace offering and that's disappointing because it's obviously a big thing. There's also a number of mistakes in the language, as well as some inconsistencies of a more logical nature, such as personal pronouns or people's names. The sum total is definitely not bad for a first module (yes, it's hard to believe, but this is the author's first one), but testing should have eliminated most of those issues.

    Grade

    This is the third time in a row I'm complaining that grading is tough, but once again this is justified. Were it not for some of the things I've mentioned, we'd be looking at a well above 8 grade. Things being as they are, I was about to give it 7.85 out of 10 with regret but I decided to give it an 8 out of 10 after looking at the screenshots I was picking to illustrate this review and consequently reminding myself what great fun I had playing and how this module does definitely stand out. You will probably have more fun playing it than this 8 grade suggests if you start at level 6 or at level 7 if you don't particularly care about wizard spell selection. In time, you will probably look back at it as one of the nicest modules you've played. I heartily recommend that you give it a go.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2009

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